Burberry has been able to do something that many brands have yet to achieve: It has transformed itself from being a company characterized by that stodgy trench coat your father only wore on weekends back in the '60s to a multifaceted brand, relevant for the digital age.
Burberry was established in 1846 as a company that manufactured coats and tents for British explorers on polar expeditions. But according to New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, "By the time Audrey Hepburn wore a Burberry trench coat in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961, there was nothing left to discover except the way to the nearest mall. Burberry's grandeur had been leached out of it. And all that remained for the next 35 years."
Known for his creative risk-taking, Burberry's Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey is credited with breathing an entirely new life into the luxury brand over the last three years. Bailey oversees almost every aesthetic aspect of the company, from fashion lines to retail locations and merchandising to marketing. He is credited with introducing creative campaigns that pull from different creative disciplines and integrate music, art, and design to not only create a mood, but to strategically position the brand for both high-end and ready-to-wear clientele.
"Digital is something that should never been an afterthought -- it should never be a checklist that is something to do," said Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry. "Digital for me is not a project; digital is a way that we live. If you deal with it as a project, it will always be superficial."
Bailey recently launched two campaigns for Burberry worth noting -- the first, being Burberry Acoustic that prominently features known and newly discovered British musicians like: Southern, Keane, Vinyl Jacket and Rae Morris. All of the music artists are wearing clothing from the Burberry Brit fashion line. The campaign integrates custom music videos and exclusive interviews from each of these music groups and arranges them in a tiled layout on the Burberry website.
Another campaign called Art of the Trench combines user-generated content to help document and capture the lifecycle of a Burberry trenchcoat around the world. People around the globe are encouraged to take a photo of themselves wearing a trench and upload it to the website. Users visiting the site can browse submitted pictures of real people, favorite them, comment on them, and share them on social networks like Facebook.
The Man Behind the Revitalized Brand
Bailey, himself, is not a stranger to the fashion industry, having graduated from the Royal College of Art with a Masters degree in 1994 and later received an honorary fellowship from the College in 2004. From 1994 to 1996 he was the Womenswear Designer at Donna Karan and Senior Designer of Womenswear at Gucci in Milan from 1996 to 2001. He joined Burberry in May 2001 as creative director and became chief creative director in November 2009.
His approach to Burberry's legacy, Cathy Horyn wrote in the New York Times, "has been entirely modern. [Bailey] makes extraordinarily simple and elegant connections between Burberry's orderly tradition and the fragmentary reality of contemporary life. In both his men's and his women's collections, there are always coats -- brass-buttoned, square-shouldered, a model of British form -- but, just as inevitably, there is something askew or radically de-emphasized about the outfit: a grandfatherly cardigan, a knit cap or a wrap dress in silver lamé that looks as if it were flung on in irritation."
Even with a stagnant economy, Burberry is undoubtedly on the right track, now appealing to a younger and more established demographic and taking on a more gritty and authentic approach to marketing with a renewed creative direction. It has indeed solidified itself as a brand with longevity and mass appeal.
In July 2012 the luxury retailer famed for its trench coats and plaid-patterned accessories reported an 11 percent rise in revenue for its fiscal first quarter, boosted by its men's division. But the gain was much lower than a year earlier.
"We've delivered a robust first quarter in a more challenging external environment," Chief Financial Officer Stacey Cartwright said on a call with reporters. "We must continue to outperform the market, irrespective of what the macro-economy throws at us."
Earlier this year, fashion house Burberry confirmed that it is sticking to its global expansion plans, despite concerns about the impact of the downturn on luxury brands. Chief executive Angela Ahrendts said the firm was focusing on increasing its presence in the high-growth markets of Brazil and India.